Stepping out of my vehicle, I see a group of soldiers clustered around a dark shape lying huddled on the ground. Behind me, two Iraqi Police vehicles come to a stop, and the Iraqi Police begin to dismount from their blue and white Ford Explorers.
Motioning to the Iraqi Policemen to stay back, I walk over to the soldiers that have been securing the site.
“Who is in charge here?”
“I am Sir, thanks for coming.”
The Sergeant in charge walks over with a tired smile. There are dark rings under his eyes, and his face is strained with fatigue. I can tell that his men have had a long night.
Glancing at my watch, the blue indigo glow tells me that it is only 5:45 in the morning.
He and his men have been here for hours.
“No problem, Sergeant, what do we have?”
The Sergeant waves his right hand towards the body.
“Well Sir, the body was found a few hours ago. He was probably killed last night or yesterday afternoon. We have been pulling security since he was found.”
Turning, I look at the body.
He has obviously been tortured.
Clad only in dark blue sweatpants with a thin vertical white line running along the seams, I can see that his dark skin is badly scored, the chest a mass of blue bruises and black marks.
Lying on the side of the road, with his hands tied and twisted beneath him, his face is still covered by a bright red bandana.
For a second I close my eyes.
I can imagine his last moments.
He was alive, if barely, when the insurgents brought him here to this place to die. In pain and terror, he was thrown from a moving vehicle by his kidnappers. With his hands bound painfully behind his back, he was unable to break his fall. After the vehicle stopped, a man wearing a headscarf wrapped around his face placed a pistol to his head and fired a single shot into his right temple.
His body lies where he fell.
Opening my eyes I walk over to the body lying on the ground. He is surprisingly young. Not more than 20 or 25.
A handwritten note is tied to his body by a black plastic bag. A government ID card is displayed prominently on his chest.
“Have you checked him for traps?”
Insurgents have been known to rig their victims with grenades.
The Sergeant runs a tired hand across his face.
“Roger Sir, we checked and it’s clean.”
“Alright, let’s get the note and the ID card.”
The Sergeant reaches down with a gloved hand and pulls the ID card off of the plastic bag. He holds the card up in the morning light, and reveals a photograph of a serious young man in a blue collared shirt.
Glancing down at the body, the man is recognizable as the man in the photo, even from beneath the blindfold.
The Sergeant grimaces and gingerly drops the ID card into a clear plastic ziplock bag.
Pulling out a matte black gerber he picks up the frayed white note using the pliers. A soldier behind him hands him another gerber, and he unfolds the note with a deft twist of his wrists.
Both sides of the note are scrawled with a ragged Arabic in a light blue ink.
“What does it say?” A masked interpreter standing to one side walks over and reads the note.
He is quiet for a second.
“Whoever wrote the note is badly educated. Almost illiterate. Most of the words are misspelled, and it is hard to read, but it says the man’s name, and that he is from Baghdad. It also says that he is a Ministry employee. They want to be sure that we can identify him.”
The insurgents are trying to make a point.
To work with the new Iraqi government is to invite the worst kind of death.
Looking over at the Iraqi Police, I can tell that they are upset. For them, this hits very close to home.
“Alright, let’s get the blindfold off and take some photos.”
The Sergeant walks over and unties the red blindfold. The young man’s face is oddly at peace, his eyes closed and his features calm. The only sign of violence is the dark red mark on his right temple where the bullet entered his skull. I cannot see an exit wound.
The Iraqi police captain and his officers turn away.
They believe that to look at the executed man’s face is to offend god and invite the same death on themselves.
I can’t say that I blame them.
Finally, I turn and motion to the Iraqi Police Captain. My patrol has escorted his men here so that the police can take possession of the body and return it to its family.
The Captain walks over, surprisingly reluctant. His men hang back by their vehicle.
“Sir, this area is not our responsibility. This area is the responsibility of another Police Precinct. They need to come take possession of the body. This is not our job.”
It takes me a second to realize that he is refusing to pick up the body.
“So you are saying that even though we escorted you out here, you want another Police Precinct to come pick up the body? That you will not do it?”
“That is correct, Sir.”
I stand quietly gazing at the man. I can’t believe what I am hearing. Suppressing a sudden flash of frustration, I address the Captain calmly.
“Captain, this man has been murdered by insurgents. His body is lying on the side of the road. It is disrespectful to the man, and it is disrespectful before god to not do everything we can to send him back to his family, where he may be laid to rest in peace.”
The Captain returns my gaze, and then his eyes fall on the body at his feet.
Straightening, he gives a short nod of his head.
“You have the right of it. I was not thinking clearly. It would be disrespectful. I must not forget my duty to the man.”
He is quiet for a second, and then he looks back up.
“Also, I must not forget my duty to god.”
Turning, he speaks quietly to his men. They look at one another, and then they look at the Captain.
Finally, one of them reaches into his vehicle and picks up a body bag.
Moving quietly in the early morning light, the six Iraqi Policemen reverently pick up the body of the young man, and prepare to bring him home.